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The Shameful Act: Marriage and Sexual Intimacy in Tertullian of Carthage

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by Hannah Turrill

Tertullian of Carthage is well-known for having had a significant influence on the development of theology in the Latin-speaking western portion of the Roman Empire. Much attention has been paid in recent years to Tertullian's views on women, but little has yet been said about his views on marriage and sexuality. Though connections between his views on marriage and those of later thinkers are less clear than in other branches of theology, largely due to the controversial nature of his views on second marriage, his influence is still felt in thinkers such as Cyril and Jerome.

As with many areas of his theology, Tertullian's writings on marriage and sex contain intriguing tensions or paradoxes across his corpus. In some places, he praises marriage as a positive good, and at other times he reduces it to little more than fornication. This study examines Tertullian's writings on marriage and sexuality in light of the context of Roman sexual mores, seeking to more clearly establish his views on the subject and the reasoning behind those views, ultimately suggesting that his theology of marriage and sex may have its roots more in cultural than in Scriptural concerns.